Most of us know about snakes. Growing up in the South, we all have our stories. There have been times we found snakes in our forts in the backyard, or sometimes in the walls of our homes! And even though we know most of them pose no threat, we try not to get to close. Double dog dares as a child couldn’t persuade me to grab for the grass snake’s tail. And now, despite all my childhood uneasiness about snakes, I am being called to grab the tail of a snake.
“But Moses protested again, “Look, they won’t believe me! They won’t do what I tell them. They’ll just say, `The LORD never appeared to you.’ ” Then the LORD asked him, “What do you have there in your hand?” “A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied. “Throw it down on the ground,” the LORD told him. So Moses threw it down, and it became a snake! Moses was terrified, so he turned and ran away. Then the LORD told him, “Take hold of its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it became a shepherd’s staff again.” -Exodus 4:1-4
Moses was being called to do something big. All his life he had been molded and shaped for a time and event that many weary Israelites never thought would come. Moses even had given up the thought that the words his mother spoken into his ear as a baby, “You are meant for something great,” must have only been a mother’s dreams. Here he was, nearly 60, established and comfortable, and a long way from Egypt. But the Lord had only been preparing for this time.
When we are going through trails, we often refer to the times in the desert, the 40 years of wandering. But I recieved a new perspective today. What about the 40 years that Moses was away from Egypt? That is a time too that beckons to be looked at. When he was in Egypt, Moses was in a position to do a many great things. He had power and wealth and the opportunity to change the status quo. He felt the burden for his people, and longed to do anything he could to help. But, his mistake was not waiting on God’s guidance. “Impatience is often the midwife of injustice.” (Rev. James Forbes) Instead, he tried to take matters in his own hands. Out of what some would call righteous anger, Moses lashed out against just one of many oppressors, and killed him. But that was not God’s plan for freeing His people. And Moses knew it. He eventually had to flee the land that he had hoped to save. I can only imagine that he felt he had failed.
Settling into this failure, he married, and raised a family. But God had not forgotten his people. He heard their cries and had a deep concern for their welfare. (Ex. 3:24-25) And so He appeared to Moses. We all know the burning bush story, and how Moses even protested God’s calling at first, begging Him to send someone else. But God was certain that Moses indeed was set aside for something great. Moses would lead the people of Israel on the journey of their lives. Moses asked God how he would convince Pharaoh and the people that he was indeed ordained for this mission. He knew how the people must remember him. He didn’t exactly leave on the best terms. Why should anyone believe that he, a murdered who ran away, was called by God for anything great? But God had been working in Moses, and preparing the time. God knew that Moses had to learn patience, and had to learn to wait on his word, instead of acting out of his own desires. Thus the 40 years away from Egypt. Now was the time. The first thing God did was test Moses. “Throw down your staff.” A silly request it must have seemed. But then what would appear, but a snake!! The verses tell us that Moses turned and ran away. I don’t blame him!! But the Lord called him back, “Take hold of its tail.” Really? The tail Lord?! Don’t you know that means the snake can coil up and bite me!? Don’t you mean stay back from the snake, or even try and get rid of him? Certainly you don’t mean, grab him by the tail!! But Moses did not even hesitate. And God knew His work in Moses was showing through. God spoke, Moses acted, even when there was fear. Forty years, and Moses was beginning to get it. Wait on the Lord, trust in His word.
Many of us wouldn’t have faulted Moses for his actions back in Israel. He had only lashed out in righteous anger, built up from years of watching his own people brutally oppressed. But his attitude of advocacy was a mis-step; one not guided by God. We can claim that God is at work in our life, and that may very well be true. But making that claim does not mean everything we do is righteous. Moses discovered that the hard way, and so he had to learn the hard lesson of patience. And at the end of that lesson was a test of faith. Throw down all that you value. For Moses, his staff was his livelihood, protection for his flocks and a support for his walk. God called him to throw his staff on the ground. Without question, he did. When the snake appeared, even though Moses wanted to run, God called him to grab the snake by the tail. Again, without question or hesitation, he did. By throwing down all that he valued, Moses learned that God takes what we have, and makes it even more powerful. It may seem scary at first, but when we grab it by the tail, it can become a staff that leads a nation.
So for me, this means, patience. When things seem hopeless, when I don’t understand why, Patience. Trusting God’s guidance will keep me from mis-stepping and lead me to things even better than I could have ever imagined. It also means faith. Faith that when God calls me to something, even if it seems as scary as grabbing the snake by the tail, I will trust that snake will be far more beneficial and pleasing to God than my old wooden crutch ever was.